Before They Were Famous, These Artists Made This

Classic Arts Features   Before They Were Famous, These Artists Made This
Cal Performances celebrates John Adams and his collaborators with a revival of Available Light.
Layla and Majnun
Layla and Majnun Susana Millman

Equal parts laboratory and museum, Cal Performances presents and produces programs representing the full spectrum of the performing arts, from established masterpieces and newly commissioned work to revivals of pieces and productions from the recent and distant past. Based at the University of California, Berkeley, all this is meant to offer deep connections with artists from different disciplines, eras, and corners of the globe.

This month’s revival performances of 1983’s Available Light, celebrating the 70th birthday of Berkeley’s own John Adams, represent a perfect example of this approach to programming. A frequent and cherished collaborator here at Cal Performances, for nearly 40 years the acclaimed American composer has explored music’s power to prod and entertain. He reveals the world we know, but in new ways.

Adams is both artist and neighbor. “We’re likely to see John at the supermarket,” says Cal Performances executive and artistic director Matías Tarnopolsky, “but he is an artist whose impact is global. Any part Cal Performances can play in the development and exposition of his art is fundamental to our mission, vision, and values.” For his part, Adams says that, “To be associated with organizations like the L.A. Philharmonic, the San Francisco Symphony, Cal Performances, is really a major part of my life. They’ve been like a nest in which I can lay my eggs.”

But why celebrate the prolific Adams’ 70th birthday by staging the early and all but neglected Available Light?

“We wanted to do something unexpected,” Tarnopolsky explains. “Available Light was forward-looking. In 1983, you didn’t know that John Adams, [choreographer] Lucinda Childs, and [designer] Frank Gehry—the collaborators—were going to become the John Adams, Lucinda Childs, and Frank Gehry. That work was a turning point.” And thus a good candidate for a revival.

Revivals and commissions are embedded in Cal Performances’ DNA. Tarnopolsky is proud that “we have a rich history of commissioning important new work, such as Robert Wilson and Mikhail Baryshnikov’s Letter to a Man [seen at Zellerbach Hall in November] and Steve Reich’s Runner, which received its U.S. premiere last month by Ensemble Signal in a concert honoring the composer’s 80th birthday. As for revivals, we want to make these works as alive today as when they were premiered,” meaning not only Available Light but also the modern-day premiere of Rameau’s 1745 opera-ballet, The Temple of Glory, to be performed by the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra & Chorale and guest artists (April 28-30).

Tarnopolsky believes that commissioning “is central to what we do.” Earlier this season, a Cal Performances co-commission marked another significant anniversary, the 60th birthday of groundbreaking choreographer Mark Morris, whose dance ensemble performed the world premiere of Layla and Majnun—based on the classic Persian love story—with the acclaimed Silk Road Ensemble and Azerbaijan’s Alim Qasimov and Fargana Qasimova.

Says Tarnopolsky: “Attending a performance, sitting in a concert hall—these are among the most democratizing acts in our society. And it is for us to make sure these shared experiences are as accessible to as many people as possible.” A future for art depends on those who believe art has a future. Cal Performances stands on that creed.

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